“… this son considers it the highest possible compliment when he’s told, ‘You are so much like your dad.’ ”
There were just too many options!
Spring is here and my maple tree is waking up. May is the month of my birthday. June is the month of my wedding anniversary (40 years this year). The Leafs are—maybe, hopefully, prayerfully—in the playoffs. Our nation of Canada turns 150 this summer. Throw in Mother’s Day, Pentecost Sunday and Father’s Day, and you can understand why my mind and my fingers have been bouncing around like a dog in a hydrant factory. I’ve started half a dozen different editorials for this issue. I’ve abandoned six of them. So here are three bite-size offerings—a trio of editorial sliders—to get this meal started. There is good eating in the pages to follow, with lots of food for the mind and the spirit. Find a good reading chair and dig in!
My mom’s middle name was Grace. It was an apt description of her nature. Although she never shied away from saying things that needed to be said, I can’t recall her ever using her words to wound. Even when this teenaged son did.
The specifics that sparked my adolescent rage are long forgotten. But the memory of my words and the violence with which I spat them at her have never faded. She had reminded me to do something one too many times. As I walked out the door, I turned and snarled, “Get off my back!”
Compared to the coarseness of our current public discourse, this may sound tame. And there came a day, many years later, when Mom and I could tell the story and laugh. But the laughter, for me at least, was always tinged with a lingering taste of shame. I know now that what I interpreted as nagging was really my mom’s loving attempt to embrace me and speak the truth to me. I’ve learned that when you keep turning away from a hug, it can start to feel like someone is on your back.
Speaking the Language
I grew up listening to spiritual language. Speaking in tongues, the interpretation of tongues, prophetic messages and words of knowledge—these were all common terms in my childhood lexicon.
I remember kneeling at the front pew in my home church, determined not to get up until I had been filled with the Spirit and, most important, spoken in tongues. My cousin knelt beside me, praying for me, encouraging me to not give up, and staying with me until it happened. I was young, not yet a teenager. I recall informing my mom that I was going to tell my public school teacher what had happened to me when I went to school the next morning. Her gentle caution was my initial clue that my world was not everyone else’s world. I’ve often wondered what a demonstration of my new-found spiritual language at show-and-tell-time might have resulted in.
Since then, I’ve come to understand spiritual language—or the language of the Spirit—in far broader terms than the experience of speaking in tongues. Without questioning or downplaying the legitimacy of what we call the utterance gifts, I believe we need to be people who speak the fullness of the Spirit’s language. The language of the Spirit includes things like truth, mercy, justice, love, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. We live in a world of “alternative facts” and “false news,” where the truth is called a lie and lies are called the truth. The atmosphere we live in is polluted by hate speech, malicious slander, and vulgarity masquerading as entertainment. If there was ever a time for a fresh Pentecost to embolden a Spirit-filled church to speak the fullness of the Spirit’s language to a suffering culture, it is now.
“Ian, don’t become your dad. You’re way too good for that.”1
I ached with sadness when I read those lines in Ian Morgan Cron’s memoir, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. Cron’s father was a controlling and abusive alcoholic. He recounts the story of the night his drunken father spat in his face. Later, seeing a dried patch of his father’s spit still on his face, Ian quickly rubbed it off with an old T-shirt. “Years later,” he writes, “I would realize that I had rubbed it in.”2 It took a courageous teenage friend named Tyler to look Ian squarely in the eye and say, “You turn into your dad when you’re drunk…. don’t become your dad.”3
I thought of that story and of Tyler’s words as I considered writing about Father’s Day. You see, this son considers it the highest possible compliment when he’s told, “You are so much like your dad.” In fact, some people have even said that I’m the “spitting image” of my dad. I know most people are referring to either my sartorial taste or my 62-year-old face, but my prayer is that they also believe I am the “spirit and image” of my father.
The word “conversation” used to mean a person’s conduct or way of life. You can find it used that way in the King James Version. Today, it means a spoken communication between two or more persons. My dad didn’t do a lot of talking about his faith in God. But he sure enough lived it out. For that conversation, I am profoundly grateful.
- Ian Morgan Cron, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A memoir—of sorts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 162.
- Ibid., 143.
- Ibid., 161-162.